by Edie Weinstein
Photographers have a unique gift that allows them to see beyond appearances and with the inner and outer lens, bring their vision to viewers. Stand before a picture and imagine yourself having been present when it was taken. What feelings might it evoke? When I heard about the This Is Our Town project being shown at Hickory Kitchen, I knew I needed to visit the exhibition that honors our local notables and learn more about the man behind the camera.
BH: As a photographer, you say that you are also a storyteller. So please tell us your story. Who is Mike Maney?
MM: The easy answer is I’m a resident of Bucks County. Well, Buckingham if we’re being specific. If we want to get even more specific, I’m one of those people who moved in over the last decade and forced us to go from the 18901 to 18902 zip code.
The thing is, I’ve loved this area for years. My wife and I went to college across the river in Ewing (back when The College of New Jersey was more humbly called Trenton State). My wife’s best friend was dating a guy from Doylestown and we’d visit on the weekends. We fell in love with everything about Doylestown and the surrounding area — the small- town feel, the vibrant art scene, the proximity to both New York City (go Yankees!) and Philadelphia, and the people we met when we visited. But our careers took us north to NYC. Cut to a mid-career relocation and, well, here we are. Luck and fate are a powerful combination.
Over the past 25 years — Holy schnikees, that’s a quarter century! — I’ve had the good fortune to help some really smart people tell their stories. I’ve done that as a corporate communications executive for big Fortune 500 companies and as a consultant for Silicon Valley startups. My role has evolved over the years to help organizations connect the dots between marketing, product, and sales, and, at the same time, challenge them to think bigger about how what they do and what they sell fits into the larger societal picture. But at the core, it’s still about drawing the stories out of them that need to be told. Many times, those stories manifest themselves in nouns and verbs. Sometimes, they are best told with images. Increasingly, they are told through a blend of both.
Those who know me, know I always have a camera in my hand. I’m a student of the time-worn adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. That was one of the learnings drilled into me as a part-time apprentice under my father, a man who took his life savings, bought the photo studio he was working at as a second job, and spent the next decade as a successful small business owner. It is no exaggeration to say I learned everything I know about photography from him.
BH: How do pictures say what words may not be able to transmit?
MM: When writing is done well, it feels like music. Words give a fluidity and cadence to a story. You can take your time painting a picture in the reader’s mind. Photographs, on the other hand, are a fraction of a moment in time. They have to grab the viewer at first sight.
Words are direct. You hear what the author or speaker wants you to hear. What photos do differently is force the viewer to come up with her own interpretation of what was happening in the split seconds before and after the camera’s shutter clicked.
BH: Was photography a long- time passion?
MM: It has been. Since as far back as high school. I was on the yearbook staff, so I had the privilege of shooting throughout the year. Back then, I shot black and white film and developed it in the school darkroom. Seeing the images go from my eye to paper and seeing others’ reactions to them had me hooked.
On one of the last days of our senior year, one of the other yearbook photographers and I presented a slideshow of shots we’d taken of the class throughout the year. On actual slides. Shown through an actual slide projector. I remember we used Van Halen’s “Dreams” as the opening background music and ended with Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” It was something folks hadn’t done before, at least at our school. The feedback from our classmates, including shedding more than a few tears, told me there might be something to this hobby I loved. And the fact that the administration let us try it gave me the foundation I’ve used throughout my life to not be afraid to try new projects.
Photography still is a passion. I’ve created a career where my profession and my passion have collided. It sounds cliché, but when that kind of karmic kismet happens, it’s hard to think about any of it as work.
BH: How can someone develop their skills as they might (in times past, pre-digital era) develop a roll of film?
MM: The technology has changed but the basics haven’t. Camera, lens, subject, and light. If you have those, you have all you need to develop your skills. In fact, you’ve got it easier than photographers like my dad who had to wait a week for their film to come back from the lab before they knew whether they got the exposure right. There are all kinds of tutorials on the internet, but here are some of the things I do to continue my own development:
* Carry your camera everywhere and shoot everything
* Study art history (there are tons of free college classes online)
* Follow and study other photographers you like on Instagram
* Join Facebook photography groups and ask for feedback from other photographers
* Wake up early and shoot before everyone else wakes up
BH: What have some of your favorite subjects (human or otherwise) been?
MM: I’ve been cursed with a bad case of incurable wanderlust. My favorite subjects tend to be cultural. I’ve had opportunities throughout my career to visit some amazing places — places like Barcelona, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Tuscany, Germany, Hawaii, London, Helsinki, and Estonia.
One of my most memorable experiences — besides an ill-advised ride on a seesaw in a Mexican bullring — happened during a walk along Dubai Creek. Locals and tourists were crossing the creek in crowded boats called dhows. They were all heading over to the souks to shop. I planned to head over, too but wanted to walk a bit further away from the crowd. A few hundred feet later, I saw this lone man on the dock next to an empty dhow. He asked me if I wanted a ride across the creek in his boat. Turns out, he had just bought it and I was his first passenger. And instead of simply ferrying me across the creek, he gave me a tour up to the prince’s palace and even let me pilot his brand -new dhow. (According to Wikipedia, “dhow is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with lateen sails used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region.”)
So, while I say my favorite subjects tend to be cultural, I guess what I’m really saying is that I like to capture the human aspect of the world around me.
BH: What fuels your creativity?
MM: I like trying new things. We’re only on this big blue marble for a short, finite amount of time. I see no reason not to make the most of it. I channel that into capturing the world around me, doing what I can to share those images and stories with as many of my fellow humans as possible, and saying yes to a lot of things most people would be scared of — things like that seesaw in the bullring, taking on a crazy commissioned collaboration with PayPal, and my latest project with Hickory Kitchen called This Is Our Town.
BH: Tell us about the This Is Our Town exhibit.
MM: I’ve come to realize that what drew me to Doylestown was the people. So, when Mike Markowitz, owner of Hickory Kitchen in the center of Doylestown, asked me if I wanted to show my work as the restaurant’s quasi-artist in residence, I said yes. Mike and his team are enthusiastic supporters of local artists and really exemplify what it means to do business in a small town.
I had one request: That we think bigger. Rather than rotate random images of mine in and out of the exhibit, why not create a series of images that showcase the people of Doylestown? I saw it as a small way to give back to the town.
“This Is Our Town” draws on inspiration from storytelling projects like “Humans of New York” and Peter Adams’ “Faces of Open Source.” The first installment in the series includes portraits of Officer Dave Carlen, who graduated from one of the local high schools, spent two decades serving his country in the Navy, returned to serve his community while fighting thyroid and multiple myeloma cancer; Chanin Milnazik, an incredible marketer who founded The Women’s Business Forum of Bucks County, First Friday Doylestown, and the ‘Doylestown BluBall’, showing how one person has the power to help many others; and Mayor Ron Strouse, a lifelong resident of Doylestown and the first openly gay mayor elected in the state of Pennsylvania.
My hope is that other photographers around the country take this project, find their own Mike Markowitz, and create art to celebrate their own communities.
BH: What do you love about Doylestown?
MM: There’s a lot to love about Doylestown. But every list has to start with the people. Like other small towns across the country, we’ve got our issues, but I’ve yet to see a town rally like the people of Doylestown do when someone in their community needs help. Despite our differences, there’s an unspoken understanding that we really do live someplace unique.
I encourage folks to stop by Hickory Kitchen to see the photographs of the people who make up this town we call home. If you have ideas for future subjects, drop a note into the comments. And if you’d like to see more of my work, hop over to http://mikemaney.com or follow me at http://instagram.com/mike.